Wi-Fi calling allows you to make and receive phone calls over a Wi-Fi connection rather than a cellular network—which can be a real lifesaver in areas with poor cellular signal.
Carriers started offering Wi-Fi calling in reaction to the rise of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), another way of making phone calls via the internet. Companies like Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber were already providing reliable, inexpensive calling via data and Wi-Fi connections and the telecommunication carriers needed to compete.
Wi-Fi calling uses VoIP technology—though it’s not the same as a VoIP service. This technology converts your analog voice signals into digital data packets that can travel across the internet. It also works for video calling and instant messaging.
In any case, Wi-Fi calling allows for clear calling and reliable messaging in places where cellular coverage doesn’t cut it—places with thick walls or ceilings, underground spaces, and remote rural areas are just some examples. Wi-Fi calling can also help you avoid roaming charges and international rates in many situations.
Many carriers have already made Wi-Fi calling available for users who want a secure, reliable communication alternative to regular calling. If you happen to have the feature and didn’t know about it, now would be a good time to turn it on.
How to Enable Wi-Fi Calling
Most modern cell phones support Wi-Fi calling, but activating the feature varies from device to device. Checking out your user manual, searching your settings, or looking up online resources can help you find instructions on your specific device.
The following set of steps applies to most devices.
Step 1: Open your Settings
You can access the Wi-Fi calling options through most Settings menus. Access this menu on Android by swiping down from the top of the screen and clicking on the icon that looks like a gear or cogwheel icon.
iOS also uses a gear wheel icon for its settings app.
Step 2: Select Connections
From the Settings screen, click on the option labeled Connections. Doing this opens up your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Flight Mode, Contactless Payment, and Wi-Fi Calling settings.
On iOS, click the Phone option from the Settings menu.
Step 3: Toggle Wi-Fi Calling
You should see an option for toggling Wi-Fi Calling in the Connections menu. Click this button. It should change color to indicate that it’s on. The text next to the button should also read “On.”
On iOS, click the Wi-Fi Calling button from the Phone menu.
Step 4: Enter an E911 address
Some devices will prompt you to enter an E911 emergency address. This step guarantees emergency services can find you if you call for help over Wi-Fi. Some devices and networks omit this step.
Step 5: Check the icon at the top of the screen
With Wi-Fi calling set up correctly, you should see an icon at the top. Depending on your device, it may only show up when you’re on an active call. In any case, this icon looks like a traditional phone’s handset with a Wi-Fi symbol above it. With this icon showing, your phone will route calls through a Wi-Fi network when available.
Barriers to getting Wi-Fi calling working
Older or lower-end devices may not support Wi-Fi calling. However, the option to make phone calls over Wi-Fi has existed for over a decade. Your device will probably support this feature if it’s relatively new and from a reputable manufacturer.
Carriers in the United States, like T-Mobile and Sprint, offered Wi-Fi calling as early as 2007. Today, most networks support it. Check that your carrier allows for Wi-Fi calling. In some cases, your specific carrier may charge extra for it, and some require you to register your device before using Wi-Fi calling.
If you think you’ve configured everything correctly and Wi-Fi calling isn’t working, there are a couple of things you should check. First, your firewall settings or other network restrictions could be causing an issue. You may want to double-check with your carrier about these restrictions.
Alternatively, an out-of-date operating system (OS) can also cause problems with Wi-Fi calling. Check that you’re running the latest version of your device’s OS.
Lastly, battery-saving modes are yet another potential roadblock to Wi-Fi calling. As Wi-Fi is battery intensive, many of these modes switch it off automatically when in conservation mode. If you run into issues, check that the battery-saving mode is off.
Advantages of Wi-Fi Calling
- Stability: With Wi-Fi calling on, your cellphone checks for a Wi-Fi network when you make a call. If it finds one, your call routes through the Wi-Fi. If you walk out of range, your device seamlessly switches to the cellular network.
- Reliability: If you’re in an average-sized home, you’re probably close enough to your router at all times. Proximity to your router ensures a reliable, high-quality connection. Depending on where your nearest cellular tower is, you may experience spotty service—especially if you’re in a rural area. This distance can create reliability issues on cellular networks.
- Improved Coverage: In remote areas or basements that seem like dungeons, cellular coverage can be poor. Poor coverage makes connection over the cellular network difficult and makes call quality even worse. With a Wi-Fi connection, you can call and send messages from anywhere.
- Reduced Cost: Wi-Fi calling can help you avoid international roaming charges—which is helpful when traveling through regions with limited or costly cellular services. Those who regularly travel for business may find Wi-Fi calling to reduce overhead expenses.
- No Apps Required: Unlike VoIP services, your phone doesn’t need additional apps or downloads to use Wi-Fi calling. This feature comes baked into your phone.
Disadvantages of Wi-Fi Calling
- Dependence on Wi-Fi: You obviously need Wi-Fi to use Wi-Fi calling. In private settings, this is not usually an issue. However, public hotspots are often unreliable or congested, leading to weak connections, dropped calls, and poor-quality audio.
- Battery intensive: Making calls over Wi-Fi can cause excessive battery drain compared to calling via the cellular network. Depending on your device, your phone may need to work harder to maintain its connection with a weak Wi-Fi signal.
Is Wi-Fi Calling the Same as VoIP?
VoIP and Wi-Fi calling use the same technology, but no, they aren’t the same. Most VoIP technology providers require an app to use, but with Wi-Fi calling, the service is built into your phone’s settings. Also, your number always stays the same with Wi-Fi callings (which may not be true for all VoIP services), and your carrier still places the call in a way that looks regular to the recipient on the other end.
When people refer to VoIP, they talk about services like Skype, Nextivia, and RingCentral. These VoIP services offer an app and the infrastructure to make calls and send messages online—independent of any mobile carrier.
Wi-Fi calling is typically limited to smartphones and some web apps provided by carriers. VoIP calls and messages work on a much more comprehensive range of devices like laptops, desktops, and tablets. Using the right equipment, you can even make and receive VoIP calls with an analog phone.
Check out our list of the best VoIP services of 2023.
How Much Bandwidth is Required for Wi-Fi Calling?
The bandwidth required for Wi-Fi calling depends on the codec, connection quality, and whether you’re placing a voice-only or a video call. Some voice compression codecs require more bandwidth than others, and using video also increases bandwidth demands.
A Wi-Fi voice call uses approximately 1 MB of data per minute. A video call uses about 6-8 MB of data per minute. For reliable, quality voice calls through Wi-Fi calling, you need a bandwidth of 2MB per second. Video calls require around 10 MB per second.
The bandwidth requirements for Wi-Fi calling aren’t that high. Some 4K streaming services, for example, have demands as high as 50MB per second. If you can watch Netflix or YouTube on your Wi-Fi network, it’s fast enough for Wi-Fi calling.
Wi-Fi calling doesn’t require blazing speeds, but it needs solid, uninterrupted service. You may experience choppy audio, unwanted delays, echoes, and dropped calls if your connection is interrupted. Staying close to the Wi-Fi router usually helps maintain a solid connection.
Similarly, making Wi-Fi calls on a shared or public network presents its own set of issues. Many people may use the same network in a crowded coffee shop, airport, or office. This results in network congestion, often leading to slow data speeds and poor call quality.
International Wi-Fi Calling
Wi-Fi calling can work internationally, but there are a few factors to consider. For example, if your mobile carrier supports domestic Wi-Fi calling but not while you’re roaming, you may run into an unexpected surprise. It’s worth confirming before you travel since that surprise can also come at a hefty price.
In most cases, a Wi-Fi call to your home country while abroad is treated like a regular at-home call with no additional charges. However, each carrier may have specific rules regarding these calls.
Many carriers also include unlimited or discounted Wi-Fi calling as part of their service. In these cases, international calls may cost significantly less than the cellular network.
Rules regarding international Wi-Fi calling vary from carrier to carrier, but there are some that most carriers have in common.
1. Supported countries and roaming agreements
Certain carriers may only support Wi-Fi calling in certain countries. Your carrier must have roaming agreements with an international partner to enable Wi-Fi calling while you travel. Check with your service provider to see which regions allow you to use the feature.
As previously mentioned, calling back to your home country through Wi-Fi is usually free, while Wi-Fi calls to an international number outside your home country will often use your regular international rate. These rules may vary from carrier to carrier.
2. SIM card restrictions
Some carriers have rules regarding using local SIM cards while making international Wi-Fi calls. These rules can result from regulatory compliance or the carrier’s policies to avoid confusing revenue-sharing situations.
Some carriers include international Wi-Fi calls as part of their standard packages. Others charge these calls at the same rate as regular calls in your home country. Depending on your carrier, you may also be charged for receiving international calls through Wi-Fi.